Friday, September 8, 2017

It's a Doggy Dog World

I thought reviewing a whole summer’s worth of genre movies featuring dogs was going to be relatively easy. My criteria was pretty basic. The movie had to center around a dog or dogs in some fashion. They could be the protagonist or the antagonist, but not just a side character. (Moonwolf (1959)), of course tricked me, almost right out of the gate.) I tried not to select only horror movies, but at the same time, I wanted to avoid Lassie movies and anything churned out by the Air Bud franchise. I also wanted to avoid werewolf movies, since they are their own sub-genre, (Monster Dog (1984) is basically a werewolf movie, but it had ‘Dog’ in the title, so what the heck…).

After sitting through 11 weeks of dog movies, I have come to think that the definitive genre dog movie has yet to be made.

That has not to say they are terrible as a rule, but for a creature that has had such a long and complex relationship with humans, you think there would be more to say in terms of our fears and hopes that are intertwined with them. Perhaps the technical difficulties in working with animals limits what can be done on screen. That said, I am always for actual animals working on the screen with actors, it provides for a reality that can’t be duplicated in green room with dots taped on a stick.

Cujo (1983) comes the closest to fulfilling my notion of an ideal dog genre movie. Cujo as a character is a cherished pet turned killer through no fault of his own. Cujo embodies both the companion and the threat that define dogs throughout our history. There is a certain risk we undertake allowing animals into our home and good horror plays on this. It is interesting to note that out of all of the movies I reviewed over the summer (except Moonwolf… because ugh, that movie), only Rottweiler, (and Monster Dog to a lesser extent) used stray dogs as their villain.

Lucky was by far the most unusual  use of a dog out of this set. The film uses Lucky less as an animal companion and more like the murky subconscious of its main character, this plays on the nature of pet ownership. We provide and shelter these animals in return for their companionship. Through this connection we project upon them aspects of a personality. The pet often serves as the voice for things from our interior lives. Unfortunately, for the people inhabiting the world of Lucky, it is the interior voice of a horrifying killer.

Was it fun watching dog movies all summer? Sure! (Not you, Moonwolf). Yet, at the end of it, I can see there is definitely room for more. This is an untapped sub-genre. Maybe it is held back because there is a stigma attached to animal movies as being strictly kiddie fare, but somewhere out there the next great dog movie is waiting to happen.

Maybe next summer.

Dog Days of Summer 2017:
Moonwolf (1959)
Dogs (1976)
C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979)
Play Dead (1981)
Cujo (1983)
Monster Dog (1984)

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